Saturday, April 2, 2016

Do the Ends Justify the Means? When?

"Because, therefore, we are defending a way of life, we must be respectful of that way of life as we proceed to the solution of our problem. We must not violate its principles and its precepts, and we must not destroy from within what we are trying to defend from without." – Eisenhower 1951

There is no weekend reading this weekend. Instead, here is some weekend thinking, as if the two are not related. Nevertheless, this morning I was listening to Dan Carlin’s recent Common Sense podcast. Despite whatever tilted views the program host might have, Dan raised some very profound questions. In the pursuit of national interests, do the ends justify the means? Or do the means justify the ends? When do these two paradigms matter?

In the context of national security, should we think about the end with respect to the threat and pursue means to deal with that threat. If so, to what extent do those means then have an effect on our national values? More importantly, how do they affect our reputation in the society of states? Conversely, do we instead emphasize the means with which we pursue national security as a representative demonstration of a broader normative end – our national values?

Dan’s commentary encourages us to take these philosophical questions one step further by looking at a contemporary challenge to peremptory norms – terrorism. As we consider how to deal with the challenge of terrorism, the manner in which we deal with it has implications for the nature and character of our society and our society’s reputation. Dan asks us to consider this. On the one hand, is terrorism scarring a generation that will be shaped by that scar? Think about previous periods of time in which a generation was scarred by the Great Depression, or fascism? On the other hand, is terrorism changing generations of who we are? Consider the decades-long ideological struggle between capitalism and communism – the Cold War. These are questions fundamental to the differences between realism and liberalism international relations theory. They describe the differences between the cyclic fluctuations of our nation’s interaction with the world.